The Rev'd Grant Sparks
Building Peace in Robust Diversity
The Feast of Saint Luke, Evangelist and Martyr
Over the past few days I’ve had the honour of being fortunate enough to spend time with the Archbishop of Canterbury during his visit to Grafton Diocese. I had no role at all in any of the formal events, but as I was Archdeacon Tiffany’s personal driver, I was there in the informal times, in-between the public events, which gave me many opportunities to speak with Archbishop Justin and to his wife Caroline.
Over lunch on Friday I mentioned to the Archbishop that I was going to be preaching at Grafton Cathedral today. When he heard this he immediately asked that I bring to you his most very warm greetings for the Anglican community here in Grafton Parish, on his behalf. The Archbishop was very genuine and earnest that I do so.
It was an extraordinary, and sometimes surreal few days and with the addition of the ordinations yesterday, it's been a real whirlwind.
I know that some of you attended the Archbishop’s public lecture, but for those who didn’t his theme was “Building Peace in Robust Diversity”. What does that mean? It means that it's easy to find peace among like-minded people, but the real challenge is finding peace with those who you disagree with.
Archbishop Justin used the example of the reconciliation that occurred after WW2 between Australia and Japan. Children born today would have no inkling of the deep anger that was felt towards the Japanese for the aggression and crimes that were committed by their military throughout the war.
Yet Australia, and our allies, have since reconciled with both Japan and Germany. Hate has been replaced with genuine friendship. This is a success story of reconciliation.
But how does this relate to us? What can we learn from today’s Gospel that can inform our Christian ministry?
The answer came to me the next day. After attending the Archbishop’s public lecture on Thursday evening, on Friday we joined him first for morning prayer in Ballina, and then morning tea at Lismore Parish, but it was what happened next that gave me an insight into today’s Gospel that I had not previously seen.
After morning tea, we took a walk through the Lismore CBD together with the Archbishop, led by The Rev’d Christian Ford, Rector of Lismore. On our walk, Christian pointed out the still visible marks that the floods had left throughout his town, and the immense damage to lives, businesses and homes that had been inflicted on them.
This was my first time in Lismore since the floods, and while I knew all about it from news reports and from talking to and praying with a great many flood survivors, I had not myself physically been there to walk with them in the place where it actually happened.
At midday we arrived at Lismore Catholic Cathedral and that is where Bishop Greg and Archbishop Justin said words that I realised really described what I was feeling.
In Bishop Greg’s short homily, and Archbishop Justin’s response, both of them made the very same point. Even though Anglicans and Catholics have their differences, deep bonds of friendship bring reconciliation between us.
Even though we had not experienced the terror of the floods, coming to hear their testimony and walk with them through their town brought a deeper level of understanding than anything we can get simply by reading or hearing about it.
Have you heard the old saying that to understand someone you need to walk a mile in their shoes? This is entirely the point that both bishops were making. To have peace, even among great diversity, we have to actually meet with each other in the place where we live, create friendships within the context where we each live our lives, and learn to perceive and experience the world from each other’s perspective.
Lismore flood survivors could have come to Grafton to tell us their story, and we still would have heard them. Bishop Greg could have met Archbishop Justin anywhere at all and still become his friend, but by walking though Lismore so they could show us the reality, and praying together at the Cathedral so we could share both our grief and hope, we reached an even deeper level of peace and understanding of each other than would have been possible anywhere else.
In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us that whatever house we enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”, and that we should remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide. In case we’re still not getting the hint we are then told explicitly, “Do not move about from house to house.”
Why? To understand we need to backtrack to the beginning of the reading. What was happening? Jesus was appointing seventy others to go ahead of him to every town and place that he intended to go.
I think we could be forgiven in the modern world for thinking that he did this simply because they didn’t have telephones. Today we would send an email ahead, checking to see if we could find accommodation or local contacts to meet, so I guess that Jesus had to send people because he didn’t have the internet or booking.com?
I think that would be a mistake. I think that the meaning of what Jesus was doing has not changed one little bit. If Jesus was doing it today he would do precisely the same thing again.
The seventy were not just spreading a message. They are even told not to greet people they meet along the road. If you have travelled, you know that transient relationships with fellow travellers can be a lot of fun, and you can often learn a lot about them in a very short period of time even though you’ll never see them again. Jesus isn’t interested in that. If he was only sending a message you’d think he’d want them to tell anyone they meet, but he doesn’t so that isn’t the goal.
Today is the Feast of St Luke the Evangelist, the traditional author of the Gospel we are reading each week this year. Even though Luke’s Gospel has a vast number of similarities to the other ‘synoptic’ gospels, Matthew and Mark, the most distinctive thing about Luke is that he is deliberately attempting to reach out beyond the Jewish culture that Jesus was born into. Luke wants to reach out to the entire range and diversity of cultures that existed throughout the Roman Empire of the time.
Jews, Greeks, Romans, Slaves, Free. More than any other evangelist, Luke wants people from diverse cultures, places and status in society to hear about the Good News of Christ. For the seventy, being ‘sent’ is not just about communication, it is about relationship and experience.
The same ‘Peace in Robust Diversity’ that Archbishop Justin was talking about, that Bishop Greg was talking about, is exactly what Luke tells us that Jesus was also talking about.
“Remain in the same house”, “Do not move about from house to house”, these statements make it clear that Jesus is asking them to form deep and permanent relationships with people because it is only through this type of relationship that they can overcome the barriers of culture, tradition, language, status, even religion that would otherwise put a wall between attempts to find the peace that Jesus is telling them to bring.
That is how we are to be as his disciples. That is how we are to be as a church.
I’m sure that over these past few months you’ve heard or read in the news about divisions in the Anglican church. As you know, the Anglican communion contains astonishing diversity, a global family of some 85 million people, in over 165 countries, speaking over 2000 languages, across 500 different cultures.
Among all that, it's not unexpected that some differences of opinion would occur. In recent months in Australia these differences have even led to a small number of people leaving the church. While that is unfortunate, and it is certainly their right to do so, yet this is precisely the moment where we are challenged to find another way.
As Archbishop Justin said in his public lecture, we must learn to “disagree well”. Conflict is ‘bad disagreeing.’ What could life be like if we retain the differences between us, but do it without all the antagonism?
By walking a mile in each other’s shoes, by staying in each other’s houses, by forming deep and enduring friendships despite our differences - that is how we can have peace together even among a diversity of understanding about what God is asking from each of us through our faith.
That the Anglican communion has held together for so long with so much diversity is itself evidence of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit among us. Diversity that retains integrity is God’s miracle that has been achieved for us through Jesus' own reconciliation on the cross.
As people, as a church, we must embrace this miracle and commit ourselves to it, and to each other, as friends, in peace.
Sermon delivered by The Rev’d Grant Sparks at Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton, for the Feast of Saint Luke Evangelist and Martyr, on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the 16th of October 2022.